A major round of updates and lots of new technology for the Ford Mustang, but it's still a simple soul at heart. Here we test drive the entry-level 2.3-litre EcoBoost Fastback (coupe to you and me) fitted with the new automatic transmission.
In the metal
Ford has updated the styling of the Mustang for the 2018 model year, but don't worry - the baby is still very safely splashing around in the bath water. You might spot the new LED head-and-tail-lights, the new bumpers, new front splitter, new bonnet with extra air vents (hood scoops, we really should call them) and the optional new rear spoiler, but to be honest you'll probably just be caught up in a wave of sixties nostalgia. As ever. The new Mustang looks like the old Mustang, which looks like the classic Mustang, so all is well in the world.
Inside, Ford says that it has given the cabin a good going-over in terms of quality, fit and finish, but you could have fooled us. It's still a retirement home for distressed plastics, and the finish is distinctly sub-par for a car that must take on the likes of the BMW 4 Series and Audi A5. Still, the seats are big, squishy and comfy and there are some nice new details. The most obvious is that the old analogue instruments have now been replaced by a 12-inch TFT screen. Most of the time it shows you a pair of twin round dials with an info screen in the middle, but it has some other tricks up its sleeve. Hit Sport mode and it switches to an up-and-over strip-style rev counter, which replicates the look of classic sixties Mustang instruments. Better yet, activate launch control or Drag Strip mode and you get a five-red-light countdown, racing-car style. A bit daft? Yes, but fun all the same.
Up front is the same 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder petrol engine as before. We know - a Mustang really ought to have a V8, but something like 90 per cent of the 150-odd Mustangs sold since Ford Ireland introduced the model three years ago have had this engine, so let's be realistic, eh? It's powerful enough for most purposes, although around 20hp seems to have gone missing since the last version. Ford says that's down to new economy test procedures and the fitting of a new particulate trap in the exhaust. Whatever it is, the EcoBoost engine develops more than 310hp in 'overboost' mode, and performance figures are seemingly unaffected.
The two biggest mechanical changes are the new ten-speed automatic gearbox (built by Ford itself, not supplied from the outside) and the optional Magneride dampers. These shocks have iron filings suspended in a fluid that, when you switch on a magnet, stiffen or relax as appropriate. They can read the road surface as many as 1,000 times per second and adapt. Clever stuff.
So too is the new safety kit, which includes an autonomous emergency braking system, lane keeping assistant and adaptive cruise, which Ford hopes will now head criticism of the old Mustang's safety performance off at the pass.
If you really want to drive, and enjoy doing so, and regularly tackle demanding roads, then this is definitely the right Mustang for you. The EcoBoost model is some 90kg lighter than the V8 Mustang, and almost all that weight comes out of the nose. Plus, the Fastback coupe body is significantly stiffer than the quite flexible convertible, so add all that up, and shove in the Magneride dampers, and you've actually got quite the drivers' car.
No, it's not as sophisticated as the likes of a BMW 428i, but the steering has a weighty, meaty feel to it (especially in Sport mode) and the Magenride dampers do a very good job of juggling the need to absorb bumps, but also keep the body under tight control. The combination of a big, hefty, broad-shouldered Mustang and twisty, mountainous French roads should have been an utter disaster, but the EcoBoost leaped to the challenge and felt surprisingly rewarding on a road that, by rights, should flummox any Yankee car. If it's lacking in the tautness and precision of its German rivals, then it compensates with a level of involvement and flat-out enjoyment that's rather hard to beat.
Clearly, the EcoBoost engine is always going to come in second to the V8 when it comes to noise or sheer thrust (especially now that the V8 has 450hp to play with), but it's hardly disgraced, and the new ten-speed auto does a mostly excellent job of making the most of the engine's available power and torque. It's a better gearbox for relaxing than attacking, and occasionally it shunts and hunts for gears, but much of the time it manages to do that thing that the best auto gearboxes do - make you forget there's a gearbox there at all. In fact, sometimes, it sounds like a CVT, swapping ratios so smoothly and quickly that it feels as if there is one, constant, gear. Would we have it over the manual? Probably not, as the manual gearbox in the Mustang has a deliciously satisfying heft to it, but it's a better option than the old auto box ever was.
Those Magneride dampers have an extra little trick to play, too. Toggle the Mustang into Drag Strip mode and not only does the car activate normal launch control for maximum acceleration, but the dampers stiffen the front shocks, while softening at the rear, to achieve dragster-style squat under acceleration for maximum traction, then stiffening to aid aero performance as the speed picks up. Clever tech in pursuit of old-school hooning thrills. What's not to like?
What you get for your money
Prices are still to be confirmed, and the first Irish examples of the 2018 Mustang will actually, realistically, be 191-plate cars. They probably won't rise too much beyond the current €55,500 starting price for an EcoBoost Fastback, although the extra safety kit will presumably see some increase in the base price. The Magneride dampers (a must-have option) won't be cheap, though, and nor will the ten-speed auto.
The Ford Mustang is as the Mustang was - big, dumb and fun. If you buy the EcoBoost Fastback, with those trick dampers, it's surprisingly agile and sharp, but in sophistication terms it's still a long way behind its major European rivals. Still, when something looks this cool and goes this hard, does sophistication really come into it?